BILLIONAIRE HEDGE FUND MANAGER: McDonald's culture 'has to be turned upside down'

Activist titans Nelson Peltz of Trian Fund Management and Bill Ackman of Pershing Square weighed in on how to fix McDonald’s.

The largest global fast-food chain has struggled in recent years, especially in the US.

At the CNBC/Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha Conference, “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer asked the two hedge fund billionaires if they could fix McDonald’s.

“Well, I’m chairman of Wendy’s, so I don’t want to give them too many tips one what needs to be done,” Peltz said, adding, “If I wasn’t in Wendy’s, if I wasn’t in Wendy’s and didn’t have a strong feeling for management and the board, McDonald’s might be a place we would go.”

Cramer asked Peltz why he would invest in McDonald’s in that scenario.

“I think it’s balance sheet clearly, and huge amounts of points of distribution.”

Peltz pointed out that things need to change at McDonald’s, and that could take a long time.

“But the culture and the mindset at that company has to be turned upside down. And I don’t know if they have the stomach to do it because it’s going to take a lot of quarters or maybe a lot of years to get that thing righted. And I don’t know that shareholders are going to be patient enough.”

Ackman explained that a decade ago, his fund approached McDonald’s with a plan to adopt a model of re-franchising its stores. Part of Ackman’s plan was for McDonald’s to keep a small test group of stores.

“And they sort of turned us down, but they took some steps in that direction.”

Five years ago, private equity firm 3G Capital reached out to Ackman about taking Burger King private. Ackman said that 3G wanted to use part of his plan from McDonald’s and implement it for Burger King.

“Now, burger King was in a much worse place than McDonald’s is today. A store base that’s disaster. You had same-store sales that had gone down every year. They had had 13 CEOs I think in the 25 previous years,” Ackman said. “But it was in, I don’t know, 60, 70 countries. And the best businesses are ones where if they have been run poorly and had 13 CEOs in 25 years and they still exist, that tells you something.”

It’s been a great investment for Ackman and 3G.

“So in five years, they have taken Burger King from worst. It’s on its way to being best in this space.”

Ackman first disclosed his stake Burger King in June 2012. He used his cash-shell company Justice Holdings to buy Burger King and then returned the burger chain as a publicly-traded company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

In 2014, Ackman was the best performing hedge fund manager racking up a 40% return. One of his big winners was Burger King. That investment has earned his fund millions. Pershing Square last held over 38 million shares in Restaurant Brands International — the newly formed fast-food chain operator that runs Burger King and Tim Horton’s (they merged). Shares of Restaurant Brands are up 15% since its debut.

Ackman is known for being a mostly long-only investor who takes large activist stakes in a handful of “under-managed” companies with predictable businesses.

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